This is my 1st of 2 submissions for the April 2014 Carnival of Aces, which I myself am hosting. I chose the theme “Analogies to an Asexual Experience”.
Note: These two submissions will both be very personal. They will be about “an” asexual experience – mine – and also about another experience that is very specific to me. In this particular post, I will be discussing what my experience being raised by a mother who suffered from a personality disorder was like, and what it has in common with my experience as an asexual person.
As an asexual, I am (of course) different than other asexuals. My experience is just mine, not anyone else’s, so please keep that in mind.
I started this blog with the intention to discuss Family (and fandom) in depth at times, and I think I certainly will continue to do that, in addition to posting plenty on asexuality (as I seem to have been doing lately). I have already written one post about the concept of Forgiveness that began to touch on some philosophical musings concerning the idea of forgiving my abusive mother. But I haven’t really talked about my mother much yet on this blog of mine… so let me try to delve in. This whole post was particularly tricky to write. I struggled with what I wanted to say so hopefully it all still makes sense after writing and re-writing parts of it about 5 times.
Trigger Warnings: Relatively vague mentions of (non-sexual) abuse, abusive relationships, etc. Mental illness is also discussed, I think pretty much exclusively the personality disorder subtype, and if you struggle with mental health issues you may want to proceed with caution as I might be unintentionally insensitive at times? Not sure if anything else is potentially triggering, below, but feel free to let me know if something should be added to this list.
I spent about a decade of my life, from puberty through age 23, being asexual but not knowing that sexual orientation existed. I didn’t realize that not experiencing sexual attraction (or any sexual desire at all) was “a thing” for some people, even though I was one of them. Without knowing asexual was an “option”, I thought I must be straight, because I’d (incorrectly) assumed that in order to not-be-straight, I must feel strong feelings that I’m unable to ignore about people of the same gender as myself (girls). Because I didn’t feel any real desire to kiss girls or see them naked, I dismissed the possibility that I wasn’t the default – the default being straight, of course. (Thank you heteronormativity.)
I thought most girls probably were like me and that we all weren’t all that concerned with the idea of sex, and all this talk about sexual temptation was something only people of the male gender dealt with. By thinking that, I had bought into some very sexist assumptions about human sexuality.
When I got a bit older, I slowly started to realize that I didn’t think of guys or the prospect of sex in the same way as my other straight peers. I attributed my… “confusion” to my extreme lack of romantic experience. (After all, I reached near the end of age 22 without ever having had a first kiss (or held hands or any other “romantic” thing.)) I was making an incorrect assumption that you needed to be experienced in order to start experiencing sexual attraction and in order to start experiencing sexual desire.
When I first came across the term “asexual” around age 20 or 21 and read the definition, a part of me thought it might apply to me, but the other part of me was very hesitant to accept the label, probably in large part because in my whole life thus far I had never heard of it, and I had convinced myself a long time ago that I was straight.
Now let’s back up…
I spent my entire childhood being raised by a mother with a personality disorder, but not knowing at the time that personality disorders existed. I never once considered the idea that my mom’s behaviors might be diagnosable as a mental illness/disorder. I knew that everyone’s moms yelled at them and sometimes “got mad” at them, so when I was very young, I assumed my mom’s version of “getting mad” at me and my brother was normal and similar to everyone else’s experiences. It wasn’t clear to me when I was young that my mom’s rage was more extreme than the typical parent’s anger, that this rage was ignited by things she was less justified to be upset about, and that her “yelling at me” happened way too often. Later in my childhood (around the beginning of my teen years), I kind of knew my mom was worse than other moms, and “acted crazy”, but I never thought she might actually be mentally ill. (I certainly don’t mean to imply that having a mental illness, or more specifically a personality disorder, guarantees that a person will be abusive, nor that calling anyone with a mental illness “crazy” is fair. I want to be sympathetic to people. But my whole childhood, my mom was basically a horrible, mean, abuser in my life, and I thought of her as “crazy”.) I had never in my life heard of a “personality disorder”. I did naturally start to seriously consider the fact that my mom’s behavior might count as “abusive”, but because I was unaware of psychological abuse being a valid type of abuse, I figured that without bruises, black eyes, and broken bones, it wasn’t bad enough to count as abuse. (And in terms of if Social Services would be able to help me and remove me from the toxic environment, unfortunately I was probably right and her actions were not “bad enough”, so reporting her as abusive would only cause more harm than good in my case, as she’d punish me after the investigation would likely yield no results.) Besides, I’d never heard of mothers being abusive. Women are always harmless, and only men are to be feared. Right? (Thank you sexism.)
My mother’s personality disorder and abusive tenancies gradually were getting worse, since they were left untreated. (The abuse remained mainly psychological but it had escalated into a some physical abuse too.) When I was 17 and a junior in high school, my 15-year-old brother and I finally stopped living with our mother. It’s a long story, but the key details are that my father got an emergency custody order from a court, and about a week later someone from Social Services was evaluating the 4 members of our little family.
After only a few minutes of talking to us, separated into varying different specific groups (seeing how my brother & I acted around our father vs. how my brother & I around our mother, etc), the social worker immediately recommended a book to my dad, because she felt fairly sure my mother had Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). My dad, my brother, and I were completely shocked to learn about BPD. Years later, I found out my mom’s diagnosis is probably a lot more nuanced than that, but Borderline Personality Disorder is almost definitely part of it. (Or at least a Personality Disorder Not Otherwise Specified with at least some Borderline traits.)
Obviously growing up in an abusive household is a traumatic experience regardless of if you understand why your abuser is doing what they do. But I think it’s worse when you feel like the only person in the world experiencing this specific brand of abuse, and when you’re not even sure it is “bad enough” to count as abuse. When you find out that this type of abusive person is actually documented in scientific literature and their actions are actually understood, I think it helps. I think I would not have been abused as much had my father (or my grandparents, aunts, uncles, even my same-age friends!) been aware of personality disorders when I was young, as he (they) could have realized what was going on, and that my brother and I needed more shielding from this toxic behavior. My mom might’ve even been willing to get help, if she’d been presented with the concept before things had escalated to the point it did. And honestly, I am really happy to have learned about BPD when I did, at age 17, as opposed to never learning about it, and never understanding, and always feeling… so alone in my experiences.
Growing up in an allosexual world when you’re one of the 1%? of people who is asexual is always going to leave you feeling different, regardless of if you know the term asexual or not. But the more you learn, the less confused you will feel. If I had understood that not everyone experiences sexual attraction, if anyone had told me: “Hey, there’s a small chance you’ll never want to have sex”, I wouldn’t have found myself expecting the same things in my future. I really wish I’d learned about asexuality so much sooner. But again, I’m glad I learned about asexuality as soon as I did! I’m grateful that as I was first experimenting with sexual things with my first ever boyfriend at age 23, that I was able to know that being asexual was a place I might land. I needed asexuality as an “option” or else I think I would have forced myself into more sexual situations than I was comfortable with. I would have probably ended up not only making myself unhappy but also hurting my boyfriend, but being able to be honest and open with him from the start about asexuality and the possibility that I’d identify with the label helped so much.
Another thing I want to mention is that, as The Asexual Story Project highlights, reading other people’s personal stories can be so… validating for yourself. Everyone is different, but part of why we have an asexual community is because in a lot of ways our experiences are often very similar! It’s really a wonderful feeling to be able to say “wow! I’m not the only one who…” after years of feeling isolated in your experiences. Just read all of the comments on all 3 “parts” here, here, and here. It’s also really nice for a lot of people to finally have a place to share their story, it feels good to be able to get all this stuff off our chests, out of the confines of our memories, and into the world so people can maybe understand us.
The same thing can clearly be seen in those of us who have lived through being raised by a parent who has a personality disorder. I recently discovered this website: Out of the Fog and wow do I feel less alone after reading some other people’s personal stories on the forum. We all have gone through such similar things. But even before finding that website, I saw this phenomenon in the book reviews on Amazon for a variety of books on the subject of Borderline Personality Disorder, or related titles. I would go to these pages on Amazon.com not really considering buying a book, just going to join the “discussion”. Because so many of us feel such a desire to share our own stories and/or read everyone else’s! All of us never expected to find other people in the world who had gone through the same exact psychological abuse, but here we all are, and so much of what we have to say is surprisingly similar.
The experience of being asexual is, of course, very different than the experience of being raised by a BPD mom. But I just felt like there have been some similarities in how I experienced both, so I wanted to share my perspective here. I wanted to bring up these few things I felt the experiences had in common as I felt they might be relevant to this month’s Carnival. Although I’m not sure how well this post really even fits the theme I came up with, lol. Oh well.
Stay tuned for my second submission for the carnival… which will have nothing to do with my mom! Totally different subject next time. 😛
I plan to be more specific about stuff I went through with my mom in a future post. However, if you’re curious about anything in particular, just ask me! I’m happy to tell you anything at all about myself and my experiences or… whatever I can help you with.
Oh, also, I will be doing something fandom-related for Asexy April! 😛 That is definitely gonna happen. I have so many ideas, not 100% sure which one I’ll do yet… lol.